July 31--The Downers Grove Fire Department bolstered its bike medic program recently by adding five new members to its fleet.
The new members completed their training in July, bringing the department's team of medics to 12. All of the members are certified paramedics already employed with the fire department.
Bike medics are used during large community festivals, where large crowds and shuttered streets limit the mobility and access of ambulances. Downers Grove uses two bike medics to staff these events, like the annual Rotary GroveFest, 5K races and most recently, the Intelligentsia Cup Prairie State Cycling Series.
"Downers Grove is a growing community. With the number of large events, the bikes just help them get through the crowds more quickly to someone who needs help," Fire Department Spokeswoman Marsha Giesler said. "Sometimes, like in the case of the bike race, at the speeds those bikes are racing, it's sometimes those bike racers who need help."
"It's a nice service to give the residents and visitors of Downers Grove," said Scott Magee, a firefighter/paramedic in charge of the bike medic training. "It also allows us to interact with people on a personal level. We're not in a giant, diesel truck so we have the ability to just stop and talk with people. It's a little more approachable."
The department owns four bikes that each can carry around 30 pounds of equipment and medication. Bike medics are able to use those tools to administer anything from basic first aid to advanced life support care until an ambulance can arrive at a scene.
Magee, who has been with the department for 22 years, said the equipment each medic carries is designed to complement one another, making it essential that the two medics staffing and event work as a team.
"Ideally, we're always within visual contact of each other," Magee said. "One bike is carrying an (automated external defibrillator) and the other has oxygen. In a worst case scenario, if someone is having a heart attack, they'll need both of those things."
The medics completed 32 hours of training through the International Police Mountain Bike Association, a nonprofit group based in Baltimore that teaches police, fire and security personnel the use of bicycles for emergency response. Some of the skills required for the job include going up and down stairs, bike repair, sudden stopping, swerving, and moving and turning at slow speeds. Team members also completed classroom study, written tests and bike drills.
The bikes also have sirens and flashing lights to help alert bystanders to their presence. But the training to move and turn a low speed is designed to help medics maneuver through crowds that cannot easily get out of the way.
"It's pretty intense, and it takes a certain skill level," Giesler said.
"One of the common misconceptions is that everyone knows how to ride a bike," Magee said. "But when a municipality chooses to put someone on a bike, there's a lot of liability that comes with that. As professionals, we're in the public eye. We have to have the ability to ride professionally, not have an accident and communicate with other users of the road."
Downers Grove started its bike medic program in the early 1990s, and Magee credits Fire Chief Jim Jackson for making it a consistent part of department operations.
"As businesses and municipalities are cutting back on their expenses, this is a program that sometimes gets the ax," Magee said.
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